After high-level talks with the Prime Minister, the European Commission President believes compromises can be found in even the most controversial areas of the negotiations. The German has handed Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, the flexibility to find common ground with his British counterpart David Frost when talks resume at the end of the month. Brussels sources said the bloc was willing to “take a step back” and review its demands for continued access to Britain’s fishing waters and the so-called “level-playing field”.
Mrs von der Leyen is understood to be buoyed by her discussions with Mr Johnson, who committed himself to finding a deal before the transition period expires at the end of the year.
The Commission chief accepted many of her demands are unprecedented and will require a softened approach in order to broker a compromise.
She even recognised Mr Johnson’s bid to reclaim sovereignty over the UK’s territorial waters after he told the German that a majority of coastal communities had backed Brexit.
The EU’s most senior officials hinted at a possible fudge, calling for a method that guarantees European fishermen more certainty than the UK’s offer of annual negotiations over access.
But she warned the Prime Minister a complete capitulation by Brussels would result in several member states vetoing the final trade agreement.
EU bureaucrats hope the renegotiation of the controversial Northern Irish backstop last autumn can provide a blueprint for the free-trade agreement after a compromise was found without the bloc having to change its mandate.
Both sides now hope a series of intensified negotiations over the summer will bring along an “early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement”.
They will then turn “political understandings” into draft legal text as talks rumble on into the autumn.
Neither Mr Johnson or the EU’s three presidents set a deadline for an agreement to be reached.
Brussels believes it can work with the UK right up until the December 31 deadline in order to strike a pact.
Speaking after the virtual talks, Mr Johnson said: “It’s very clear what we need to achieve, I don’t think we’re actually that far apart, but what we need now is to see a bit of oomph in the negotiations.
“The faster we can do this the better, we see no reason why you shouldn’t get that done in July.
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“The issue is very clear, we fought an election based on these ideas, the manifesto was very clear.”
The Prime Minister met with Mrs von der Leyen, Council President Charles Michel and Parliament President David Sassoli for an hour.
Referring to comments made by Mr Johnson during the discussion, Mr Michel tweeted: “Ready to put a tiger in the tank but not to buy a pig in a poke. Level-playing field is essential.”
A joint EU-UK statement said: “The Parties agreed nevertheless that new momentum was required.
“They supported the plans agreed by chief negotiators to intensify the talks in July and to create the most conducive conditions for concluding and ratifying a deal before the end of 2020.
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“This should include, if possible, finding an early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement.
“The Parties underlined their intention to work hard to deliver a relationship, which would work in the interests of the citizens of the Union and of the United Kingdom.”
The statement also confirmed that the current Brexit extension period will end at the end of this year whatever happens in the talks.
“The Parties noted the UK’s decision not to request any extension to the transition period.
“The transition period will therefore end on 31 December 2020, in line with the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement.”